Attorney says rule change will cover up DHR failures; make accessing child abuse records harder

(Source: Alabama DHR)
Published: Oct. 5, 2021 at 10:50 PM CDT
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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - Accessing children’s abuse records may be a lot more difficult.

That’s because the Alabama Department of Human Resources has rewritten a rule.

Attorney Tommy James says it happened two weeks after a Lauderdale County circuit judge ordered DHR to share abuse records with him.

“Hadn’t been changed in 21 years and they get two adverse court orders against them and 14 days later they changed it. There’s something fishy going on,” James said.

James is representing the victims of the Spurgeon abuse case. That’s where a couple was accused of abusing their foster children.

“I have seven clients who lived in a house of horrors,” James said.

DHR has exceptions for sharing abuse records without the court stepping in. One of those is for attorneys representing victims of abuse.

But the rule now says records “may be shared with attorneys representing children.” Instead of shall be shared.

“This makes it more difficult for families of people, kids who have died from abuse and neglect to get those records. The only thing that’s making them change these records is losing in court,” James said.

In addition to that change, the agency also has added a 50 cent charge per record they provide, which James says could add up to a lot of money.

“What they’re doing basically is just trying to make it harder on the people who are trying to hold them accountable. If they happened to failed a child and enabled abuse and neglected or enabled abuse and neglect to continue of a child, that needs to be brought to light,” James said.

We received a statement from DHR.

It reads:

This is not a new rule. It is a clarification necessitated by recent misinterpretations and abuses of the rule. Both Federal and State laws mandate confidentiality of DHR records, and it has always been the practice of DHR to ensure that records produced are done so in accordance with the law and for the purposes the law intended. DHR does not charge children in juvenile dependency cases for their records. Production of those records is controlled by the juvenile court. DHR does seek court approval and charges for reasonable time and expense when trial lawyers seek DHR records for litigation purposes. Those charges are commensurate with most other state agencies.

Anyone can request the department’s records. Whether the department will provide records in response to a request is determined by state and federal law and any public policy considerations. A court order is required depending on what is requested under the circumstances. The current rules reflect any changes made.

As of Aug. 30, there are 3,556 pending CANs, 986 pending Preventions and 4,632 open Child Protective Services cases. 6,061 children are in foster care, as of Sept. 28.

CANs are reported allegations of child abuse and/or neglect.

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